Encore Boston Harbor Expansion Raises Legal Concerns on Where Gambling Allowed

Posted on: November 17, 2022, 10:02h. 

Last updated on: November 17, 2022, 10:23h.

Encore Boston Harbor wants to expand its resort across the street from its existing property. But state gaming regulators aren’t so sure whether gambling would be legally permitted there.

Encore Boston Harbor casino Massachusetts Everett
Traffic along Broadway looking south toward Encore Boston Harbor. The Wynn Resorts casino wants to build a standalone sportsbook and poker room on the adjacent side of Broadway from the resort. (Image: Boston Herald)

Despite its name, Encore Boston Harbor isn’t actually in Boston, but in the neighboring city of Everett. In 2013, voters there signed off on a local referendum that allowed Wynn Resorts’ $2.6 billion integrated resort project to move forward.

Nearly a decade after the local referendum — and with more than three years of operating experience since its June 2019 opening — Wynn officials want to increase the resort’s footprint with a standalone poker room and sportsbook space.

A paved parking lot across Broadway from the current casino is being targeted for the expansion.

Encore Boston Harbor is the richest of Massachusetts’ three casinos. The casino has won more than $1.88 billion off of gamblers since its 2019 opening. That has resulted in more than $470.4 million in state tax proceeds.

Gaming Petition

Wynn earlier this year suggested that the expansion building wouldn’t include gaming. The company originally planned for the new space to serve as a nightclub and event facility.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) said in March that since no gaming would be taking place inside the venue, it wouldn’t fall within the commission’s oversight. Wynn now says gaming could be held there by way of sports betting and poker. And that’s causing a bit of legal confusion among MGC commissioners.

Everett voters in 2013 ratified the following ballot question:

Shall the City of Everett permit the operation of a gaming establishment licensed by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to be located at the property located on Horizon Way off Lower Broadway in Everett, formerly known as the Monsanto Chemical Site?”

The MGC is questioning whether the referendum allows gambling to be operated by Wynn anywhere inside the city’s limits, or whether gaming is to be confined only to the precise property included in the ballot language.

Wynn attorneys argued before the MGC this week that the constituents’ backing should be interpreted to allow for gaming inside any property that is directly tethered to the site referenced in the referendum.

Attorney Tony Starr, petitioning the state on behalf of Wynn Resorts, also pointed to the company’s host agreement with the City of Everett. He used it in his belief that gaming can be permitted east of Broadway.

“The host community agreement between Wynn and the city of Everett does specifically contemplate that Wynn may undertake substantial new construction on property other than the current Encore Boston Harbor site,” Star contended.

No Action

The MGC adjourned its meeting with no vote on the Encore Boston Harbor expansion plea, despite considerable discussion on the matter.

Lawyers from Wynn and the City of Everett, along with counsel from the state and gaming commission, labored over the language. They probed whether the community agreement’s mention of “project site” refers only to Encore Boston Harbor’s originally defined parcel, or if that extends to the area surrounding the casino and possibly throughout Everett.

The MGC asked Wynn to prepare a presentation more clearly showing the boundaries of the former Monsanto chemical site, which Wynn cleaned up and redeveloped for its casino, for the next hearing on the matter.